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Posts Tagged ‘children’

When I was growing up, my parents had a number of remarkable strengths and talents.  One was a seeming encyclopedic knowledge of card games, which they taught and played with us.  Another was a love of unusual food preservation techniques, like drying food (either with the food dryer my father built himself or on the roof of the carport in midsummer, producing genuine sun-dried tomatoes, leftover Thanksgiving turkey jerky, and fruit leather), smoking fish (in the smoker my dad converted from an old refrigerator, in which we smoked fish we’d caught ourselves), and making apple cider in the fall with a cider press my dad built from a kit.  And then there was the spring we went to Florida and discovered my father know how to sail, which meant hours of fun on the Gulf of Mexico in the sailboat we’d borrowed from friends.  A fourth was telling us nonsensical stories.  Here’s a sampling:

Ladies and Jellyspoons, I come before you to stand behind you to tell you of a subject I know nothing about.  Next Thursday, which is Good Friday, there will be a ladies’ meeting for fathers only.  Admission is free; pay at the door.  Take a seat and sit on the floor.

One fine morning in the middle of the night, two dead boys got up to fight.  Back to back , they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other.  A deaf policeman heard the noise and came and shot the two dead boys.

If it takes a chicken and a half a day and a half to lay an egg and a half, how long does it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a dill pickle?

Somehow, I merited to marry a man who is also a sailor, and rather than being a whiz with food drying (my friend Sigal does that), I am the cake decorating enthusiast.  (I won’t go so far as to say maven; one of my efforts at a castle looked like Toad with two melting ice cream cones on his head, dubbed forever after as the Frog and Toad cake.)  But I’m passing on the nonsense to the kids.

Anyone got any others for me to share?


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I hate the phone.  I’m fine talking to people in person, and I love writing emails and letters.  But keep me away from the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I don’t love it in English, and like most people struggling with a language that is not their own, I HATE it in Hebrew.  When the Cap’n worked at home, I had him do most of the phone calls, but now that he’s sitting all day in an office in Jerusalem, I have to call the matnas (community center) about enrolling the kids in swim lessons, the mothers of my kids’ friends about playdates and who’s going to bake the cake for the upcoming class birthday party (usually me), and the health clinic to make medical appointments, all in Hebrew.  Since those phone calls are often the only time I speak Hebrew all day, I suffer from arrested development in the language, and while I sometimes get out my thoughts just fine in fairly fluid Hebrew, if someone calls me out of the blue or wants to discuss something for which I have no context, I freeze up.

That’s what happened yesterday when Peach handed me the phone to give driving directions to the mother of a girl playing with Beans this afternoon.  I hadn’t given anyone directions in a while, and with a sleeping Bill in the crook of my arm, and half asleep myself, I couldn’t even remember the word “intersection” in Hebrew.  I stammered, made long pauses, but finally got out the information.  (She found us just fine a few minutes later.)  When I got off the phone, though, Peach looked up from her homework and said, “Wow, your Hebrew was really bad just now.”

Normally I don’t make much of those comments.  I try to be good-natured about them, laugh them off, and not take it too personally when my children make fun of my admittedly pathetic Hebrew.  But I had just finished correcting Beans on a question she missed on a Hebrew language test (telling her that luchot, despite the feminine plural ending, is an irregular masculine noun), I’d been caught unawares by this phone call, and I have days here and there when I’m feeling more vulnerable than usual.  I began thinking about all the things I gave up to come here: my family (which has already had to do without me every Christmas for the past 16 years since my decision to convert), my friends, my community, my quirky, charming Victorian house on a tree-lined street, my career as an English teacher (teaching it as a second language or to students who aren’t going to school in English is not the same), my shul community, and not least, understanding everything that is going on around me.  The vast majority of the time, I can focus on what is wonderful about living here, but every now and then, I think about what I don’t have anymore, and it gets to me.

Peach stepped on a landmine when she make that disrespectful crack (even more so since she’s working on a contract where she needs to demonstrate kibbud av v’em every day to earn a dinner out with me, one-on-one).  I kept my cool at first, but when I went up to her room to debrief her, I realized that my nerves were more raw than I’d thought and I lost it, listing for her all the things I’ve mentioned that I gave up so she could grow up here, speak the language, and feel at home.  Because while I don’t doubt for a minute that this is my homeland as much as a tenth-generation Yerushalmi‘s, it doesn’t feel like it every minute of every day.

Maybe this is good.  After all, while I sometimes miss the US, I don’t regret coming here, and can’t imagine going back.  But I think it’s also okay sometimes to let myself acknowledge that there are times when I feel like a fish out of water.  For Peach, too, I think it might have been good to hear that while we wanted badly to come here, doing so has not always been a joy ride for the Cap’n and me.  It will never be as easy for us as it will be for the kids.  Despite the fact that the girls, too, are immigrants, their Hebrew is very good, they’re going to school here from a young age, and will have all the formative experiences Israeli kids have that shape who they are, who their friends are, and their lives as Israelis.  As badly as I wanted my conversion (and as agonizing as it was), when I held Beans, my firstborn, in my arms in the hospital, I looked down at her and whispered, “I did it for you.”  Similarly, while the Cap’n and I knew we wanted to come here to live someday, we really let the children decide for us, and chose to come when Beans was beginning kindergarten so they would not be too far behind in first grade.

I’m not going to tell the kids I spent my childhood walking to school everyday through the snow, uphill both ways.  On the other hand, perhaps for them to know what I gave up to be here will make the experience of living here mean more to them, help them understand what it’s like for adult immigrants, and in some way tell them how much we love them in giving them this life.  It’s not like buying them a present and showing them the price tag; I think it’s more like giving them a rare gift and telling them it’s the only one like it.

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I received the following message about Lag B’Omer via email from my rav in the US, Rabbi Benjamin Samuels:

This Sunday marks the 33rd day of the Omer, Lag Ba’Omer, the day on which the plague that took the lives of Rabbi Akiva’s students subsided so many years ago.  Lag Ba’Omer is treated as a semi-holiday, and according to Ashkenzic practice, the mourning practices of the Omer are suspended, and according to Ramo, are fully ended.  Haircuts and marriages may take place from here on out. 

Since Lag Ba’omer fall on Sunday this year, many authorities permit haircuts on the preceding Friday, i.e. tomorrow, in honor of the Shabbat.

 This Lag Ba’Omer find a way to celebrate with family and friends.

Traditional practices include bonfires; singing and dancing; studying the Zohar, as it is its inspirational author, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit; pilgrimages to Rabbi Shimon’s burial place atop Mt. Meiron near Tsfat in Israel; first haircuts of three year old boys; roasting whole lambs; and my own childhood favorite, kickball at the park.

Most importantly, we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer as an affirmation that the health and healing of our people relies on our unity and shared destiny and that we can only approach and stand at Sinai to receive the Torah, כאיש אחד בלב אחד – as a single body with a common heart.

Wishing all a good Shabbos and a happy Lag Ba’Omer.

Since making aliyah, we’ve learned the ropes about Lag B’Omer in the Zionist Paradise.  Here are the rules:

1) Start collecting wood well in advance.  Don’t let your kids dismantle park benches (I’ve seen it done), but scrounge around the edge of town to get fallen branches, or save up prunings and yard waste from the year.  (And when foraging, watch out for snakes; they wake up in the spring.)

2) Close all windows prior to sundown.  And keep them closed.

3) Learn the safety rules of bonfires.  The week preceding Lag B’Omer is National Fire Safety Week in Israel, and fire stations all over the country host school groups (I accompanied Banana’s two-year-old gan to the one in Beit Shemesh) and teach the kids how a proper bonfire should be constructed, lit, and extinguished.

4) Find a good spot away from buildings with minimal vegetation near it.

5) Stock up on campfire foods (hot dogs, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and marshmallows)

6) Bring instruments (guitar, accordion, your voice)

7) Nap the afternoon before.  Especially the kids.  (This should be easy, since this year Shabbat precedes Lag B’Omer.)  Teenagers often stay out all night, and when our kids were out shrieking at nine o’clock in the morning on Lag B’Omer, a neighbor gently informed us that the sanctity of a quiet morning is observed on Lag B’Omer just as it is on Shavuot (when many have the custom of staying up all night studying Torah).

We used to have a lovely (makeshift) bonfire pit near our shul which has since been paved over.  But sabra neighbors (who apparently have firm ideas about bonfires) have found a new spot a little farther away, and the mom and I have coordinated wood, a mangal (portable charcoal grill), and food to make this possibly our most festive Lag B’Omer ever.  Beans asked if we could take a table to eat our food on.  No, honey, with smoke in our hair and soot under our fingernails, this is a dirty-butt venture.

Have a happy, safe Lag B’Omer.

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Seven-year-old Peach’s new favorite CD is the Cap’n’s recording of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  From my perspective, it’s not the most brilliant or textured collaboration of Lloyd-Webber and Rice, but it has some clever lyrics and does some great stuff musically (like have Reuben tell Jacob about Joseph’s “death” in a country-western song, and have Pharaoh’s song about his dreams be in the style of Elvis who, the Cap’n reminded me, was nicknamed “The King”).

Peach helped me clean the kitchen on Friday and we listened to the soundtrack twice through.  I asked her a few questions about the story to get the facts straight (she could answer them all), and at the end, I observed  how devastating it must have been for Jacob to think his son was dead for years, and only be reunited with him shortly before his own death.  Peach agreed that that may have been the case but said, “But the brothers saved the Jewish people when they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites.”  How? I asked.  “Well, the Ishmaelites took Joseph down to Egypt and sold him into slavery.  Later on, he told Pharaoh what his dreams meant, and told Pharaoh to save up food for seven years.  That saved everyone from starving, including Joseph’s family when they went to Egypt because there was no food in Canaan.  If Joseph had stayed home with his family, no one would have told Pharaoh to save up food, and everyone would have died.”  From the mouths of babes (and Torah-educated babes, no less) . . .

Now I’ve just got to ask her why the Jews had to be slaves in Egypt.

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Some of you have probably seen the video below in previous years around Pesach time:


In an earlier post, I stressed the importance of not combining spring cleaning with Pesach cleaning, and this illustrates it well, i.e. bathtub rings are NOT chametz.

Having said that, there is enough to keep one busy for up to a month ahead of time.  (My friend Sigal won’t say the word “Pesach” until a week before, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know it’s coming.)  By stringing out the things that need doing over time, it can save on prep overload in the last week.

After my earlier Pesach post, one reader (who kindly linked to my blog from hers) sounded disappointed at the lack of timeline.  For those who have the drill down from years of practice, the following post will probably not be worth a lot, but for those new to Jewish practice (or morbidly curious non-Jews), it might prove informative as a jumping-off point for your own preparation.

First, though, a few more time-saving tips.

  1. If you eat kitniyot during Pesach, have older kids (7 and up) help with the checking.  I check each item three times (which seems to be the prevailing minhag), and let the older girls do one of the checks.  (They do a good job, too.)
  2. Don’t kasher your own metal if you can help it.  Shuls sometimes have large pots for boiling vessels and experienced blow-torchbearers to do libun on your oven racks.  If you take everything scrubbed and polished, let someone else do it.  It is safer and can save you time, mess, and possible injury.
  3. Friends of ours in Newton had leftover linoleum from covering their floor and cut it to fit their kitchen counters, so all they have to do is take it out and tape it down every year.  If you have countertops that have to be covered or kashered, this can be an easy way to do it, year after year.
  4. If you have porcelain sinks, getting sink inserts (instead of lining with foil) is a quick way to make your sink kosher for Pesach (and use the insert every year).  Personally, I miss being able to kasher my stainless steel sink in Newton, but it’s a lot easier lining my porcelain sinks here with the standard-sized liners sold at the hardware store, so it’s a tradeoff.
  5. On your computer, save documents from year to year for your prep schedule, weekly menus, and a corresponding shopping list so you don’t have to reinvent the Pesach wheel every year.  The more organized you are in advance, the easier it is to get everything done.  When Pesach is over, go back and revise as needed for the following year.  (I also keep a document with an inventory of what I have for pots and pans, utensils, and serving ware so I know if something broke last year or I’m going to need new equipment for the holiday.)

Here is my Pesach prep schedule:

1 month ahead

□ Work on finishing chametz food in pantry and freezer

□  Start sorting kitniyot

1 week ahead

□ Do additional cleaning

  • clean around upholstery
  • clean carseats
  • polish silver (kiddush cups, everyday meat cutlery, candlesticks)

□ Wash/vacuum car

□ Plan meals and shop

  • food (especially non-perishable)
  • aluminum foil
  • paper/plastic ware
  • sandwich and ziplock bags
  • foil pans (lasagna, small rectangular, pie or cake pan)
  • 24- or 48-hour candles
  • regular candles
  • toothbrushes, toothpaste
  • dishwashing liquid
  • sponges
  • Shabbat sponges

□ Arrange to sell chametz

□ Clean temporary space for Pesach stuff in kitchen; line with paper/plastic

  • empty cupboard, wipe out, and line shelf
  • cover chametz or pack and store

□ Laundry (especially aprons, oven mitts, dish towels)

3-5 days ahead

□ Check for chametz

  • coat pockets
  • backpacks, school bags

□ Finish shopping

  • buy produce, milk, eggs
  • last-minute items

□ Fridge and freezer

  • toss most food; bag chametz food
  • transfer chametz food to large basement freezer; reserve kitchen freezer for Pesach food
  • wipe surfaces clean

□ Prepare vessels/utensils for kashering

  • scrub clean
  • let sit 24 hours
  • kasher (kiddush cups, parve utensils, everyday meat cutlery)

□ Counter tops

  • pack up food/utensils
  • scrub clean with caustic cleanser; leave 24 hours
  • kasher

□ Oven/stove

  • clean oven (self-clean cycle)
  • clean stove with caustic cleanser
  • cover stove surface with foil
  • libun oven and burner racks

□ Microwave

  • clean and stow in cupboard

□ Dining room

  • tie cupboard doors closed
  • clean booster seat
  • wipe down chairs, table
  • launder chair pads

□ Laundry

  • change beds
  • launder table linens

□ Unpack Pesach dishes and cookware

  • store in Pesach-cleaned areas

□ Begin cooking

  • finish sorting kitniyot

Day before Erev Pesach

□ Final cleaning (as usual)

□ Finish cooking

Morning of Erev Pesach

□ Bathroom

  • replace toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap

□ Trash

  • take out trash before chametz burning

Above all, don’t go it alone.  Kids in Israel are home for a full week before the seder, and not everyone sends their kids to camps for that week.  Put ’em to work!  If they’re old enough to do laundry, enlist their help to do it.  Some kids like to do wet cleaning better than tidying, so make use of this, especially if you were hoping to sneak in some spring cleaning or if you’re having houseguests for the holiday.  Have them scrub out the tub, clean the bathroom sinks and mirror, or take out bathroom trash.  My ceramic tile floors could use a good scrub on hands and knees, so I plan to station a kid every few meters with a bucket, rag, and brush, and let them Cinderella away.  (They love it, for some reason.)  Kids can help with washing fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit to prepare for the meal, and make simple salads.  Above all, the Pesach table should be festive, and kids can help by making centerpieces or name cards to mark each participant’s place at the table.  (Check out Creative Jewish Mom for craft ideas for the holiday.)  Such things need not be complicated; you’re trying to prepare, after all.  Just give them construction, scrapbooking, or Bristol paper, glue and beads or sequins, markers, or whatever you have to make something unique for each place setting.

Pesach is a family affair, and the participation of the whole family (including spouses who work outside the home, even if it’s just to put in half an hour a day before or after work) ensures that the work gets done and at the end of it all, on seder night, everyone feels they’ve earned their freedom.

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Ever since Adar I began, thoughts and plans for Purim have been occupying the Crunches.  The kids are deciding on costumes (and getting corrected constantly for saying, “dress up into”), I’m beginning to think about mishloach manot packages, and my parents will be visiting us, so I plan to enlist my mother’s help in making hamantashen this year, with apricot jam, chocolate, and prune fillings.

The first art project to find its way into my hands last week was a detailed group picture by five-year-old Banana of Mordechai, Esther, and Ahashverosh.  Nothing warms the cockles of a mother’s heart like her kid’s rendering of Mordechai in smiley-face pajamas, a dwarf Ahashverosh with Star-of-David robes (after his probable conversion on learning his bride was Jewish), and Esther towering over them with rainbow and smiley-face gown, fine jewelry, and long, curling tresses.  So print one out, everyone, and get out the crayons.  It’s coloring time!

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Self service

One of the many roles I fill in the Crunch household is that of Tyrant of Order.  (This is in opposition to the Cap’n and the children, who are the Demons of Chaos.)  Everyone dirties their clothes; I wash them.  Everyone leaves their stuff all over the house; I tidy it up (or yell at them to do it if they’re home).  Everyone eats three square a day; I plan, shop, cook, and clean up.  Everyone gets dirty (or even better, lice) and I wash and comb them (’cepting the Cap’n, of course).

A few things around the house have gone from being full serve to self serve.  I can no longer keep up with folding the girls’ laundry, so when it comes out of the dryer or off the drying rack, it goes straight into a basket that I dump in the kids’ room once a week for them to fold.  (This has the added advantage that it gives them something to do for an hour a week, and provides endless opportunity for fights to break out, leaving me the rest of the house to myself.)  The kids pitch in with other chores, like stocking the bathroom vanities with toilet paper, emptying bathroom trash, cleaning the bathroom mirrors, sinks, and counters.  They cut and arrange beautiful crudite platters for weeknight dinners.  And they know they are expected to help with setting and clearing the table (though they always need reminding to do this).

As of today, there is a new item on the self-service roster: they’re going to make their own snacks and lunches for school.  Peach sat at the breakfast table this morning and grumbled about being given a pita-hummus-cucumber sandwich yet AGAIN, and that was the last straw for me.  I remember my mother yelling up the stairs every morning when I was in first grade, asking what I wanted her to make for my lunch.  After a year of listening to me dither, she threw up her hands and turned over that thankless job to me, and for the rest of my school days I made my own lunches.  I think it’s time the Crunch children did the same.  (Banana is only 5½ , but so precocious that when she wants to earn the same allowance as her sisters, she always finds the wherewithal to do the same work.)  Tonight after dinner, the pita, hummus, butter and jam, labaneh, vegetables, fruit, cheese, crackers, and everything else are coming out for the little darlings to assemble their own lunches.  And except for packing Bill his usual box of assorted dainties, I’ll be off the hook.   (The Cap’n has a high-class commissary at work—meat and dairy—and hasn’t made his lunch for work in 4½ years.)

It’s all part of my role as Tyrant of Order to cut down the dirt and clutter in the house—though often at the expense of quiet.  Turning over lunches to the girls will probably go the way of turning over laundry—more fights and yelling, but less hassle and frustration for me.  Ah, well.  All good things come at a price.

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